Think About It: Reflections on Netanyahu’s Washington speeches

“'You must admit that Bibi delivered the goods,' my friend said with enthusiasm; 'What goods?” I asked in reply."

By
March 8, 2015 21:56
Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to US Congress on March 3, 2015, with US Speaker of the House John Boehner and President pro tempore of the US Senate Orrin Hatch applauding behind him. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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A friend of mine, a registered member of Likud, called me up the day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the US Congress . He was very excited.

“You must admit that Bibi delivered the goods,” he said with enthusiasm. “What goods?” I asked in reply.

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As a means of providing the Likud with a clear victory in the coming elections it will have a marginal effect at best. As a means of blocking a problematic agreement with Iran, it is bound to fail. As a rallying cry for the unity of the Jewish people, it achieved the exact opposite. The only fact one cannot dispute is that it was an almost perfect speech in terms of its construction and intonation.

I listened to the speech very carefully (on Fox News), and later went over the transcript. There was one sentence in particular that caught my attention: “[A]s a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.” Despite the fact that he then added the sentence, “But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel,” the first sentence sounded to me like a reflection of “Masada complex” (we shall remain steadfast even if we are doomed to die), while the second sounded like high-risk gambling.

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In the early years of the state the US did not stand with Israel – the USSR did. Not for ideological reasons, but for realpolitik ones. It was only in the aftermath of the Six Day War, following which France – Israel’s main supplier of arms at that time – declared an arms embargo on Israel, and its president Charles de Gaulle publicly described Jews, on November 27, 1967, as an “elite people, sure of themselves and domineering” and Israel as an expansionist state that the US gradually started turning into Israel’s closest ally and benefactor.

Though the president of the United States would never dare say publicly what De Gaulle did, there is no doubt President Barack Obama would have no problem endorsing what Jewish Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said about Netanyahu several days before his departure for Washington, namely that he is unbearably “arrogant.”



What disturbed Feinstein (and many other American Jews) was Netanyahu’s claim to be speaking for the whole of the Jewish people on the Iranian issue, especially in the current reality where he heads an Israeli parliamentary group with only 18 seats, a lame-duck minority government with 43 seats, and might well find himself out of office after March 17.

President Obama is certainly less concerned than Feinstein with whether or not Netanyahu speaks for the Jewish people; the manifestation of Netanyahu’s arrogance he’s fuming about has to do with the manner in which Netanyahu concocted his appearance before Congress with the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives behind the president’s back, two weeks before the Israeli election. It is doubtful that Obama was soothed by Netanyahu thanking in him in his speech for being there for Israel whenever his urgent help is needed.

We know what Obama thinks of Netanyahu’ honesty and sincerity.

The danger is that the price Israel might pay for Netanyahu’s arrogance and pretentiousness (not his concern about the agreement being negotiated with Iran) is that in future the president – this one, and whoever replaces him in less than two year’s time – will no longer be as forthcoming about responding to Israel’s urgent needs, especially on the diplomatic front, and this at a time when Israel will need such support more than ever before.

I continued to watch Fox News after Netanyahu’s speech was over and the commentators started to speak. One commentator wondered out loud how there could be opposition in Israel to Netanyahu’s speech, since certainly the main topic in the Israeli election must be the Iranian threat.

This commentator had apparently not heard Erel Margalit – the 54-year old Labor MK, with a PhD in philosophy from Columbia University, who is as fluent and articulate in English as is Netanyahu – in numerous interviews to the American media before and after the speech, explaining that no one in Israel disagrees with Netanyahu about the Iranian danger, or the fact that the agreement which is currently being negotiated with Iran is problematic, but rather about the divisive and destructive means used by Netanyahu to try to advance his position.

The Fox News commentator was also ignorant about what the Israeli elections are about – Netanyahu’s status as a leader who is totally detached from the people he claims to represent, his megalomaniacal conduct, and his failure during the six years he served as prime minister to deal effectively with any of the issues which concern most of the Israeli voters, such as the growing gaps between rich and poor, and the ever-rising cost of food and housing.

But let us not forget that Netanyahu gave two speeches in Washington at the beginning of March, of which the first was at the AIPAC Conference, a day before the speech in Congress.

It was difficult not to notice how relaxed, smiling and within his element Netanyahu was in this setting. Not even within his own party does Netanyahu feel as at home. Why? For the simple reason that when he appears before AIPAC he can escape reality, open criticism and the consequences of his own modus operandi. In Israel in general, and in his party in particular, he cannot do that. He is constantly on a battle ground.

I was especially amused by Netanyahu’s allusion in this speech to the Mauser 98 rifles supplied by Czechoslovakia to the nascent State of Israel in 1948 at the behest of the Soviet Union. Netanyahu claimed that when he enlisted into the Israeli army in 1967, he was issued such a rifle. He was sucking up to the president of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, one of three foreign, non-American rightwing politicians (two of them have-beens) who were invited to attend the AIPAC Conference.

As usual, Netayahu was not careful with his facts.

When he enlisted in 1967, the Mauser was no longer a rifle used by the IDF, having been replaced by the Belgian F.N. and the Israeli Uzi. I recall that in the Gadna paramilitary training I underwent at the Reali School in Haifa in the late ‘50s, we used army-surplus Mauser 98s. I can still remember the rifle’s recoil.

Perhaps I am being petty in mentioning this negligible detail, but it is a symptom of a bigger problem, which is that Netanyahu is inclined to twist the facts to suit his purposes. In this case it was naive and harmless, but in other cases it is more manipulative and misleading, as when he misrepresents David Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, or Levi Eshkol’s approval of a preemptive attack on Egypt on June 5, 1967 – both times in face of American misgivings – in order to defend and justify his defiance of the American president today.

Neither in 1948 nor in 1967 was Israel as dependent on the United States, diplomatically, financially and militarily, as it is today, and the consequences of Israel’s actions to US diplomatic efforts, were negligible.

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, and its short-term and long -term ramifications, will undoubtedly continue to draw attention and dispute for years to come. For the present, they have left many of us with a sour taste in our mouths.

The writer is a retired Knesset employee.

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